Limited quality of social relations, milder symptom severity and higher intelligence were shown to account for higher anxiety levels in autism spectrum disorders. The current study replicated and extended earlier findings by combining these three determinants of anxiety in autism spectrum disorders in one study. The sample consisted of 134 school-aged children with autism spectrum disorders, of whom 58 (43%) had a co-morbid anxiety disorder according to the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children-Parent version. In this sample, we tested associations between these determinants and anxiety univariately and multivariately to clarify the unique contribution of all determinants. Since we hypothesized that the association between limited quality of social relations and anxiety would be amplified by low symptom severity and/or high intelligence, we additionally tested for moderating effects. We found that higher anxiety levels were associated with a lower quality of social relations and lower symptom severity. In this mainly high-functioning sample, intelligence was not related to anxiety levels. No moderation effects were found. Since lower quality of social relations and lower symptom severity are associated with higher anxiety levels in children with autism spectrum disorders, therapeutic interventions aimed at reducing anxiety in autism spectrum disorders should pay attention to improving social relations, and presumably children with a lower symptom severity could benefit most from such interventions.
Keywords: anxiety; autism spectrum disorders; intelligence; social relations; symptom severity.